Does Stationary Ball Handling Waste Valuable Practice Time?

By Joe Haefner

Many players will spend 10 to 20 minutes or even more on stationary ball handling during practice or a skill session. I see players do it in the gym and I see it on players’ workouts on the message boards on the web. Not to mention, I would spend almost 10 minutes on this every practice as a coach and nearly 15 to 20 minutes as a player.

I think this is a mistake, because most of the meaningful ball handling during a game occurs on the move. Many coaches also preach if you are going to dribble, make sure you are going somewhere with it. So shouldn’t we spend the majority of our ball handling work on the move?

Well, you might also argue that if you are working on stationary ball handling or ball handling on the move, it doesn’t matter because they are going to get better at handling the ball.

That is somewhat true. However, dribbling on the move is a slightly different skill than dribbling while stationary. Hand position and the angle of the dribble are different. When dribbling on the move, your hand will be slightly behind the ball rather than having your hand on top of the ball. The ball is also being pushed forward and sometimes backwards at different angles rather than dribbling the ball straight into the ground. You also add the additional facet of lower-body movement. Combining coordination between the upper and lower bodies can be difficult for some, so it needs to be practiced.

Now, back to the original question…
Is stationary ball handling wasting valuable practice time?

Yes and no. I think the answer to this question is situational.

Are you working with beginners?

With beginners, you may want to start with stationary ball handling to help them progress to dribbling on the move and build some confidence.

On the other hand, an intermediate to advanced player may skip stationary ball handling. Their time may be better spent on practicing moves off the dribble. Or in a team setting, your time may be better spent on game-like situational drills that force the player to make the decisions with the basketball. A couple of drills would be the 1 on 2 Drill and 3 on 2, 2 on 1 Transition Drill.

How much time do you have for practice or a skill session?

If you are short on time, you might want to practice skills that are more important. You might want to use drills that are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck.

If you have 90 minutes, you might be able do some stationary work for 5 minutes. If you have 60 minutes, maybe you want to skip it or spend 2 to 3 minutes on it.

What are you doing and why are you doing it? What is the purpose?

Some coaches use stationary ball handling to improve hand-eye coordination and rhythm.

Some coaches use it as a beginning progression.

Some coaches use it as part of the warm up.

Some coaches use it for 3 to 5 minutes to improve ball handling.

These are some extremely valid and important reasons to do so.

Here is a sample 2 ball workout that I like to use for 3 to 5 minutes that meets all of the previous statements.

Ball Slaps – 10 seconds
Finger Tips – 10 Seconds
Figure 8 (No Dribble) – 15 to 30 Seconds
Two Ball Pound Alternating Heights – 15 to 30 Seconds
Two Ball Front to Back – 15 Seconds
Two Ball Side to Side – 15 Seconds
Two Ball Alternating Dribble – 15 to 30 Seconds

Then, I like to practice 1 or 2 difficult advancements. Here are some samples:
Two Ball Figure 8 Dribble – 30 Seconds
Two Ball – One Crossover, One Between the Legs – 30 Seconds
Dribbling with Tennis Ball Tosses off the wall – 30 seconds

Final Thoughts:

You will often see trainers doing crazy stationary ball handling drills. Some of these trainers are good. Some are bad. Just because someone can dribble 4 basketballs at once while rotating 5 tennis balls around their head does not validate them as a good trainer, even though, it is a cool trick and fun to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for kids going in the driveway and doing tricks with the ball to have fun, but when it comes to a practice or a skill session I believe that your time needs to be used in a more efficient manner in order to produce skilled basketball players.

Now, let’s say that you take that extra 10 to 20 minutes spent on ball handling and apply it to developing more important basketball skills that applicable to the game or take part of that time to develop athleticism, don’t you think that would make a better basketball player?

Tell us what you think…

11 Comments

  1. Ekam — April 2, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

    great article… so does this mean the best way to practice dribbling is doing different moves while going in different directions?

  2. George Kemp — April 4, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    This article was informational but such a minor part of teaching basketball. Yes, you have to teach the individual skills but the real game of basketball is all about TEAM fundamentals, IMO. There are two parts to this game that has to be mastered: 1. The Individual game (work harder) and 2. The team game (work smarter). Personal trainers can help with the individual game. Even good young coaches that played at a high level have trouble with the team game.

  3. Joe Haefner — April 5, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    Thank for your thoughts, George. I agree with your assessment on the importance of team fundamentals.

    Team fundamentals are crucial, but they can only get you so far if you have not developed individual skills. At the same time, you can take a group of very skilled players and still have a bad team. I think that’s what you were hinting at with your comment.

    In today’s game, most coaches (not all) at the high school level have athletes that participate in other sports and don’t train for basketball very much during the offseason. So if they don’t incorporate individual skills into their team practices, the team may not become as good as they could be had the coach incorporated skill improvement for at least 20 to 30 minutes each practice. Don Meyer said, “When it comes time for the state play-offs, which would you rather have, two better players, or two new plays? I would rather have two better players.”

    At the youth & junior varsity levels, incorporating individual skills becomes even more important.

    I’m not downplaying team fundamentals because they are very important as you mentioned. I just think the importance of developing individual skills should not be undervalued. A good basketball team has good individual and good team fundamentals.

  4. Brent — April 8, 2010 @ 7:58 am

    I don’t think we incorporate enough fundementals into our practices today. Too many coaches only want to scrimmage in their pratices! We do stationary dribbling and ball handling as a warm up (7-10 Minutes per day) and go into full court dribbling drills. For modified teams, I think they need to spend more time in this area. At J.V. and Varsity H.S. level, full court drills may be more essential but in reality, kids need to play to develop their game skills. I agree that both stationary and active drills help improve the player.

  5. Tj — April 10, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    2 ball drills can be great if done correctly. They can improve coordination, concentration, and hand quickness to name a few. But I do believe some drills are for more show than anything. You can go on YouTube and see all kind of crazy two ball dribbling tricks that are not game like drills.

    Dribbling is about progression. You start in a stationary position to perfect the form. Then you incorporate the dribble on the move while going game speed. And then finally try it against a defender.

    What some coaches seem to overlook is when the player(s) are working on their moves and they neglect proper technique and form. Players sometimes seem to think since they are working on a pull up jump shot they don’t have to concentrate on their ball handling. I make sure that the players I’m working with execute the dribble moves properly even when we are doing a shooting drill.

    I believe practice produces habit. If you have a bad habit of poor execution in practice then it will carry over to the game.

  6. lovethegame — June 2, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    First, I think that staionary ball handling drills are essential at any level. What drills you use and how quickly you progress through them depends on the level and skill set. If I am running a skill session(usually 75-90mins), I will always have a 20 min ball handling session. This session will include stationary ball handling and dribbling drills. Then I will move on to dribble moves(focusing on technique) and finally use a combo drill where the athletes incorporate numerous dribble moves(ie the “Chill” Drill). Some days the stationary part will be single ball and others will be 2 ball. The reason for doing this(and I do it will guards, forwards, or centers) is that ball handling ability is the most essential individual skill. It can help develop touch, foot dexterity, ability to catch the ball, and stamina.

    If I were coaching in season, I would look at collapsing times frames a bit more but still go heavy with handling on certain days. What I mean by collapsingtimes frames is combine dribbling with your layup work(and ultimately conditioning) in a full or half court situation. As mentioned, stationary handling can be part of the team warm up.

  7. Michael Li — November 3, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

    what about if you are practicing different types of crossovers and double moves? you don’t do those on the move. you do those dribbles when you are playing someone faceup, standing stationary.

  8. Brian Sass — October 5, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

    I think that teaching WHEN to use dribble moves is as important as the techniques themselves. I reference Michael Li’s comment about the crossover and double move when faced up.

    The point of a dribble move is to get past someone. To practice from a stationary position merely accomplishes the goal of changing hands.

    A problem with too many youth players is they want to put the ball on the floor right away. Or they bring the ball downcourt, performing fancy dribble moves that take them nowhere. It looks good! It makes people think they are good ball handlers! But there is limited functionality for such moves.

    A good crossover, behind the back, spin, or through the leg dribble, should get you PAST or ON THE SHOULDER of a defender. A good defender will watch a player crossing over or double moving in the back court, and if the movement isn’t forward, he should just let him, because the offensive player gains NO ADVANTAGE from such moves, other than as a salve to their own ego.

    I tell my players that when they dribble, or when they make a move, they should do so with purpose. I don’t want them to catch and start pounding the ball into a new shape. I don’t want them to catch, take one dribble and pick it up. And I don’twant them to showcase stationary moves that take them nowhere and gain them zero advantage.

    Am iI being a curmudgeon? Are there uses and advantages to moves notdone on the mmove?

    By the way, mirror drill my favorite drill for practicing moves on the move.

    JMO.

  9. Across the Wire (Sunday, Oct. 6th) | 5 State Hoops — October 6, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    […] Breakthrough Baskteball: Does stationary ball handling waste valuable practice time?  @BreakthruBball […]

  10. Ken Sartini — October 7, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    Brian -

    Yes, you are a curmudgeon LOL….( I couldn’t resist that – we know each other )

    but you are right. You know that my thoughts are like Joe’s and yours…. if they are young kids, they need to learn the basics of handling the ball….. before they start it on the move JMO

    You have to look at the abilities of your players and start from there. Joe has the right idea…. 3-5 minutes and move on.

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